Devastated Wupperthal to get disaster centre to aid 200 who lost homes

The devastated historic Moravian mission town of Wupperthal will get a disaster management centre to help more than 200 people who lost their homes and belongings in a fire two weeks ago, the Moravian Church of Southern Africa announced on Friday. 

An old glove factory building in the remote town tucked away near the Cederberg mountains will become the command centre to prevent another disaster and to coordinate relief and rebuilding of the mission station.

According to Wilfred Schrevian Evan Solomons-Johannes, disaster coordinator and spokesperson for the Wupperthal fire disaster, the building will also be used for skills development and social development work for local residents. 

READ: Wupperthal fire: Police investigating arson case after fire ravaged historic town

"The church, following this event, is putting in place contingency measures and disaster preparedness arrangements to be on state of emergency preparedness should any unforeseen incident occur in the future," he said in a statement. 

Sixty houses were gutted in a fire on December 30, leaving at least 200 people homeless, and historic documents and artifacts were among the belongings lost. 

It has been estimated that at least R20m will be needed for initial clearing, repairs and rebuilding. Police suspect arson, but spokesperson Captain Hein Hendricks said the investigation was continuing, with no new developments to report.

Schooling will be able to begin after a one-week delay to the start of the year.

Plea for funding, donations

To get the disaster centre up and running requires funding, and the church is hoping donors will open their wallets to help them refurbish the building and equip it. 

Trucks have been ferrying immediate requirements such as food and refrigeration equipment, and donations in kind from well-wishers have been pouring in, some from representatives of other faiths, including Islam and Judaism.

The town's water, electricity and cellphone networks have been restored and the Department of Home Affairs is helping to replace burnt identity documents. 

Special funding has also been requested to replace the school hostel.

A lockdown to demolish unsalvageable buildings was held on January 7, with only emergency workers and locals allowed restricted access as the bulldozers moved in.

Former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool was among those who visited the town this week.

'The basics have been destroyed'

He promised to relay a request for help from the town's residents to President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

"There's not a full understanding of what has happened here," said Rasool, who is also the ANC's elections coordinator in the province.

"The basics have been destroyed. For the first time in its history, the instruments used by the town's brass band have been destroyed. A school hostel that housed 120 learners is gone," said Rasool. 

ALSO READ: Devastated Wupperthal appeals for aid: How you can help

According to a statement, Rasool would also try and make contact with the German ambassador to South Africa for assistance, given that the town is named after a town in Germany. 

For more information on how to assist, go to the Facebook page "Staan Saam Wupperthal".

Information on how to donate goods, as well as banking details for those who want to donate money, is available.

Donors were asked not to drive into the town, but rather donate at one of the specified points.

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